Perth, Once Limited by Its Remoteness, Now Revels in It

Western Australia attracts self-starters

Perth is the fifth article in our series "Creative Cities," which highlights markets that have been growing in strength as creative hot spots. 

If geography is destiny, then what is the destiny of Perth, the Australian city perched between a vast empty desert to the east and a vast ocean to the west? It is spectacularly remote—almost 3,300 km (just over 2,000 miles) from Sydney by air, with Melbourne only a little closer at 2,722 km (1,691 miles). By comparison, London to Moscow is 2,500 km (1,554 miles). Perth's destiny seemed to be as a backwater remote from the rest of Australia, let alone from the wider world.

But thanks to fast travel and communication, Perth has a new destiny. World-renowned beaches, a Mediterranean-type climate, a booming economy and a laid-back lifestyle have made the city a magnet for incomers. Perth's population grew from 1.5 million in 2006 to over 2 million in 2019. It's even more diverse than other Australian cities, with over 40 percent of residents born outside the country compared with the national average of 30 percent. 

Perth isn't a world hub, or even a national hub. Because of its remote geographical location, it's not a springboard to anywhere else. It's not a place people come to by accident. It's a place entirely in its own right, and this makes for a distinctive self-starting, self-reliant creative culture. It's a place where people know it's up to them to make stuff happen, so they do.

One of the big things Perthians have made happen is the annual multi-arts festival Fringe World, which has grown rapidly to become the third-largest fringe festival in the world. A platform for local artists, more than 74 percent of those participating in Fringe World come from Western Australia, including our very own Richard Berney and his wife Lucy Peach from 303 MullenLowe!

Fringe World runs alongside the oldest arts festival in the Southern Hemisphere, the Perth Festival, known for celebrating performance, music, literature, film and visual arts from around the city. These festivals regularly draw international artists and audiences, which says a lot for events in a remote city that's many hours flying from anywhere. With this, Perth's thriving arts and music scene has become a breeding ground for many Australian exports in the space, including Tim Winton, Tim Minchen and Heath Ledger, alongside international artists such as INXS, Tame Impala and San Cisco. 

Given Perth's location, most creatives who start out in Perth are local. Young creatives get their foot in the door by volunteering, freelancing or flexing their entrepreneurial muscles, developing their ability with their own creative projects or working on small clients. After a few years of establishing themselves in Perth, some creatives travel to other Australian cities or head overseas. At the other end of the spectrum (and lucky for the Perth advertising scene) are those more experienced creatives who come to Perth for the lifestyle, not to mention the idyllic beaches. As a result, the creative community in Perth is closer knit than most. This means many practitioners will have worked with each other at some point in their career and have a sense of shared endeavor even when they're competing in business. 

Because the city is relatively small, efficiency and effectiveness are essential in the Perth agency culture. Not burdened by decades of local ad industry tradition, Perth advertising people are nimble. For all the laid-back lifestyle, they're impatient to experiment with new technology and media, keen to trial fast, and willing to fail fast and move on to the next experiment. This approach works because clients want the most from their budgets and they push their agencies on creativity, service and outcomes, with the most desirable mix for practitioners being technical know-how combined with creativity. With most in the industry operating as a "jack-of-all-trades," this isn't hard to come by.

The remoteness that counted against Perth in the past is destined to count for the city in this age of fast travel and instant communication. Like Los Angeles a century ago—also perched between desert and ocean—Perth attracts and holds particular types of creative from all over the world. It fosters a particular freewheeling diverse creative culture that's OK with being far from the global mainstream but is also keen to satisfy demanding clients and make its mark beyond the local market.

My heart goes out to all of those affected by the devastating bushfires that have swept through parts of the country. If you would like to donate, here are a few organizations you can contribute to including: the Australian Red Cross, Salvation Army Australia, St Vincent de Paul Society and WIRES, as well as local state fire services in New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia.

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Naomi Troni
Naomi Troni is global chief marketing and growth officer at Wunderman Thompson.

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